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Cablegate: Tgi Gas Pipeline Inauguration: Greek Editorialists Worry

VZCZCXRO4274
RR RUEHIK
DE RUEHTH #2313/01 3391439
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 051439Z DEC 07 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0858
INFO RUEHIK/AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI 1730
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 1983
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 5005
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 4288
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1366
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ATHENS 002313

SIPDIS

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SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ENRG KPAO GR TU IT
SUBJECT: TGI GAS PIPELINE INAUGURATION: GREEK EDITORIALISTS WORRY
ABOUT US-RUSSIA RIVALRY


1. (SBU) Summary and Comment: The US presence at the November 18
inauguration ceremony of the Turkey-Greece-Italy natural gas
inter-connector and Energy Secretary Bodman's meetings in Athens the
next day were very visible in the Greek media. International press
coverage from the Athens-based wire services was largely positive,
emphasizing the cooperative nature of the initiative, and Greek
broadcast media covered the event fairly. In print, several Greek
newspapers reprinted the Secretary's speech and used quotes from his
Alexandroupolis airport press availability on the day of the
ceremony to explain the economic benefits of the venture, notably in
the financial press.

2. (SBU) Virtually all local newspaper analysis and editorial
comment, however, cast the visit as U.S. pressure on Greece to
distance itself from Russia, reflecting deep-seated worries that
this small country may find itself caught up in a new "Cold War"
over at a time when it is being called upon to make politically
difficult choices in the Balkans. Several outlets cited perceived
US or Greek protocolary lapses to support this thesis. High-level
Greek officials from Development Minister Folias to President of
Parliament Sioufas to chief Spokesman Roussopoulos made a number of
public statements aimed at neutralizing such anxiety on November 19,
but in subsequent days, at least some official sources seem to have
privately expressed the same kind of discomfort to journalists on
background. Representative excerpts follow. Post will send a
complete set of newspaper clippings via pouch. End Summary and
Comment.

Initial Coverage: Mostly Factual, but Fearful

3. (U) Broadcast media coverage of the ceremony was handled by
state-owned ERT, and was straightword. In print, among general
interest dailies, pro-government, mid-market Apogevmatini carried an
inside 11/21 story headlined: "Positive Reaction by Americans to
Greek Turkish Pipeline." In contrast, top-circulation center-left
Ta Nea wrote that Greece is "Caught in the Energy War between
Washington and Moscow." Accrding to "sources," the paper added,
"the presnce of Americans" at the inauguration of the TGI was "the
U.S. retaliation for the Greek-Russian agreement on the
Bourgas-Alexandroupolis project." Left-of-center Eleftherotypia
assessed that the Greek government was trying to tell the public
that it had an independent energy policy to lessen the negative
impressions from America trying to steal the show at
Alexandroupolis. This paper added that in his remarks to ALPHA
radio on 11/19, Folias "discreetly" relayed the Greek government's
dissatisfaction with Bodman by saying: "I don't know what diplomatic
protocol provides for, but we should remember he himself asked to
make an address and so his presence was not a key presence."

4. (U) In the Greek financial press, coverage was more factual.
Leading economic daily Express, which had a reporter at Secretary
Bodman's availability, headlined on 11/20: "U.S., Russia Fight on
Greek Soil over Natural Gas Networks at [TGI] Pipeline Inauguration
Sunday." The paper wrote that: "The strict recommendation of the
U.S. to fill the pipeline with gas from Caspian countries and not
Russia was made both during the ceremony where Mr. Bodman stated
that the gas must come from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, or Kazakhstan
in order to prevent the EU's dependence on Russia, as well as during
his meetings with Development and Economy Ministers Folias and
Alogoskoufis ... " Finally, on 11/19 financial daily Naftemboriki,
which appears with excerpts fromrotocolary Lapses

5. (U) Among the later commentaries, on 11/26 influential
independent Kathimerini said in a prominent piece by senior analyst
Tom Ellis, available in English at www.ekathimerini.com: "Greece is
trying to reconcile its political and defense commitments to the USA
with the cooperation it is pursuing with Russia in the energy sector
... Athens is trying to make use of its gradual entry into Eurasia's
energy sector for the obvious economic and geopolitical benefits,
but while doing so must create an equilibrium between the
superpower's priorities and demands on the one hand and pressure
from the emerging Russian energy giant on the other. An initial
reading of the factors at play would put Greece, a member of the
European Union and NATO, in the Western camp. From many aspects,
that is where it belongs. However, the reality in the energy sector
complicates the situation.


ATHENS 00002313 002 OF 002


6. (U) The commntary continues: "Meanwhile, the USA's often
clumsy interventions, even when they are supporting proposals that
are clearly both of economic and political benefit, such as the need
to diversify energy sources, are a source of aggravation and
sometimes result in opposition ... With its sights trained on
deepening cooperation with Moscow and perhaps in a display of
bitterness of over the USA's failure to support Athens in its
dispute with Skopje, the prime minister's office made an effort to
downplay the presence at the ceremony of US Energy Secretary Samuel
Bodman, who had worked with the Foreign Ministry's bureau regarding
the visit. The Americans, with Ankara's keen backing, presented
themselves at the ceremony for the purpose of emphasizing - chiefly
for Russia's benefit - their supremacy in the region stretching from
Azerbaijan, across Georgia to Turkey and Greece. Bodman, who had
visited Ankara, wanted to meet with Karamanlis but had not scheduled
a meeting ahead of time. It was no coincidence that the Greek prime
minister chose not to introduce Bodman (Development Minister
Christos Folias was forced to avoid mentioning names, welcoming only
"all the distinguished energy ministers"). The government made a
concerted effort not to include the U.S. official in the official
photograph, as the leaders of Greece, Turkey and Azerbaijan pushed
the button that activated the gas flow to Greece.

7. (U) It concludes: "Greece was annoyed that there had been no
prior arrangements; this resulted in absurd situations, such as
disagreements over where Bodman was to sit. Similarly, a
distinguished Greek diplomat called discreet attention to the haste
shown by new US Ambassador in Athens Daniel Speckhard to be present
at the ceremony before he had even presented his credentials to the
Greek president. A source involved in organizing the ceremony
blamed the prime minister's office, explaining that if they had not
wanted to draw attention to the US minister, instead of trying to
sideline him, they could have invited Russian and European officials
as well ... "

8. (U) Among other papers, on 11/25, elite pro-opposition To Vima
said in an article by editor-in-chief Yiannis Kartalis headlined
"Pipelines:" "It is self evident that Athens' game between
Washington and Moscow can only have one objective: to best serve
Greek interests on the political level, and the country's energy
needs on the economic level. Beyond the economic importance of the
Bourgas-Alexandroupolis [oil] pipeline, it cannot be underestimated
that [it] will contribute to the sought after stability and peace in
the Aegean ... But Greece also has every reason to contribute to the
lifting of Russia's alienation, thus contributing to the balancing
of U.S. influence in the region."

9. (U) Also on 11/25, centrist Eleftheros Typos wondered in an
article by commentator George Malouhos headlined "Russian Pipelines
under NATO Umbrella" whether it might be a good idea for Greece to
seek a Western/NATO security web to protect the pipeline carrying
Russian energy and at the same time the status quo of the region.
More negative takes appeared in center-left Ethnos inside headlines:
"The Cold War with Natural Gas Pipelines; Political Game between
Washington, Moscow, Athens and Ankara Risks Making Greece an Energy
Hostage to Turkey; U.S. Nightmares and White House Recommendations;
The Empty U.S. Pipeline." Among other things, the paper criticized
Secretary Bodman for coming to Greece "uninvited" to attend the TGI

SIPDIS
inauguration and asking to speak in order to "dictate" Europe's
energy policy. And on 11/24, opposition Ependytis used this inside
headline: "American 'Cap' on Evros! PM Karamanlis Enraged with
Diplomatic Inappropriateness of U.S. Energy Secretary Against
Greek-Russian Energy Cooperation." The article said that:
"Washington does not seem to be able to handle the fact that Greece
is not absolutely obedient to its recommendation 'not to do
business' with the bad Russians on energy." SPECKHARD

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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